Film Photography

First impressions: 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A zoom lens

For the walking-around photography I often do, I like 28-80mm or 35-70mm zoom lenses. They’re like having three or four prime lenses on hand, but without having to dismount one lens to mount another. Their maximum apertures aren’t as wide as the primes they replace — f/3.5 or f/4, rather than f/1.7 or f/1.4. Fortunately, I commonly shoot at f/8 to f/16 when I’m walking about in daylight, so that’s no big deal.

I’ve long wanted such a zoom lens for my manual-focus Pentax SLRs. I recently bought a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens because I got a good one at a good price ($44 shipped) on eBay. I liked that it was a twist zoom rather than a pump zoom. I find twist zooms to handle a little more easily.

I took my Pentax ME SE and this lens along on a recent road trip up the Michigan Road to South Bend. Unfortunately, the lens made the ME SE front heavy, which detracted from this camera’s usual easy handling. I probably should have mounted it to my larger and heavier Pentax KM instead. But what was done was done, and I pressed on with a fresh roll of Fujicolor 200. Still, I always carried this kit in my hand, strap dangling. That tells me it wasn’t too heavy.

This lens suffers from a common malady among short-range zoom lenses: barrel distortion at the wide end. This photo shows it a little.

Liquor store

Fortunately, that’s easy enough to correct in Photoshop, which I did on all of the rest of the images so affected.

Purple building in Plymouth

The lens doesn’t stay perfectly focused when you zoom. The amount of needed refocusing is tiny, however. You don’t need to correct it except when depth of field is shallow.

Sycamore Row

At 70mm, this lens focuses to four inches. What a nice touch.


On this photo, the sun was off to my left and created a little flare. I suppose I could look for a hood to fit this lens’s 58mm filter threads.

State Theater, Logansport

I am satisfied with the lens’s sharpness.

Michigan Road historic marker

The 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A is a solid, well-made lens. My copy is still well screwed together and tight. It handled and performed adequately.


This was the fourth roll of film I put through this Pentax ME SE, which I bought somewhat impulsively as I have a perfectly good regular Pentax ME. I’ll review the ME SE soon.

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6 thoughts on “First impressions: 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A zoom lens

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    The interesting thing about this lens is the 35mm on the wide end. When it comes to wide angles and 35mm, I think, like many others, the 35mm is my “normal”, and a lens I usually have glued on the camera. But unfortunately, the 70mm is nothing for me, 85mm being the minimum I would consider using for a short portrait lens. Even the modern, sharp, 24-70mm’s most pros consider their “money” lens, the 50mm to 70mm setting is generally “meh”, and wasted for me (and really, a lot of guys that own one tell me they rarely use 50-70 anyway).

    There was a time when lens manufactures made a short range zoom that seemed more usable to the average shooter. In the 80’s, I had a Tamron that seemed no larger and heavier than a fast 50mm; the 35mm to 85mm zoom. You could really take a decent portrait with this lens, and the wide end was in my range for about 90% of my needs. This really was a golden lens, and it’s amazing to me that most manufacturers don’t make one this size and give up the real usable portrait side to go wider in the 24-28 size, which is very much less usable for me.

    For professional assignments, generally everything can be covered by the 35-85mm. When I need wider or longer, I’m trying to get an “effect”, and generally need way wider or way longer, like a 20mm or 300mm. I think manufacturers really need to get back to making the 35-85.

    BTW Jim, someone gave me a Pentax Tak 28mm to 80mm zoom. The glass looks really good, but the whole lens in loose and needs either tightening or repacking. I can’t be sure the mechanics are working well either. I really don’t know a Pentax lens guy (does Hendrickson work on lenses too?). I might fix this if I can find a guy, but I can’t seem to find a good review of this lens. Any info on the Jim?

    • Really, a 35-70 zoom is just a set of normal lenses. You can argue that 35, 50, and 70mm are all essentially normal focal lengths.

      I use a 28-80 zoom on my Nikon Df a lot. The 28mm end doesn’t get a ton of play from me.

      A 35-85 that is about the same size as a 50mm prime sounds heavenly.

      You might look at these guys to repair your Takumar:

    • Sounds like a nice lens. Looking at my behavior, I have developed a preference for the 28-85mm for my manual Minolta cameras and 28-105mm for the AF cameras. Fortunately, both lenses are very sharp with great color capture. The 28-105mm is scarce, but more of the 28-85mm are appearing on eBay these days, maybe one or two each month.

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